페이지 이미지
PDF
ePub

is such, that we have never doubted for a moment of its essential authenticity.

The young man to whom we refer was an orphan, left in mere boyhood to the care of an uncle, who taught him his own trade, that of a shoemaker. The uncle, however, absconded in debt, while our informant was still a youth, and he apprenticed himself to another person of the same occupation. The master was poor, and the apprentice, of course, still poorer ; the former failed, and was, we believe, sent to jail, and the latter, almost destitute of clothes, was again turned out, without a friend, into the street. His appearance was so squalid, that no respectable mechanic would employ him, and he wandered about the city for several days, cold and hungry, procuring barely enough to prolong existence, by doing little errands on a wharf.

In this condition, to cover his nakedness, he stole an old coat out of an entry. In one of the pockets, there was, unfortunately, a pocket-book, containing a considerable sum of money. This discovery alarmed the poor boy. To return it would have been to confess the robbery. To keep it was to render apprehension almost certain. While deliberating with himself what he should do, he was arrested, immediately convicted, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment in a common jail. Here he found himself consigned to the same apartment with three pirates, one of whom was afterwards executed, and the other two doubtless deserved execution. These wretches spent their time in instilling into the mind of this boy every sentiment of hatred against society. They taught him how to steal, and assured him, that the pleasantest life which he could choose was a life of dishonesty and robbery. They assured him, that he ought to make society pay for its cruelty to him ; that occasions for successful theft were of every day's occurrence; and that he would thus become a gentleman more readily than in any other manner.

The poor child was too easily persuaded. He entered the prison, honest in principle. He left it, determined upon being a villain. For weeks he was prowling about the city in search of some opportunity of theft ; but he found these much less frequent than he had been led to suppose. He obtained, by doing odd jobs, barely sufficient to purchase food ; and slept on cellar-doors, or in any hiding-place which

the streets afforded. Having been in jail, he dared not apply to any respectable mechanic for work; and, as the cold weather approached, his situation became almost desperate. He was perfectly prepared to commit an offence which would send him to prison, “for then,” said he, “I should be certain of having a place to sleep in at night.”

In this state of mind, he was met by an old house-breaker, who immediately engaged him to rob a store. The robbery was successfully accomplished, and the booty secured. A reward was offered for the detection of the thief. A compromise was effected between the owners of the property, the managing robber, and the police officer ; a large part of the stolen goods was returned, and the remainder shared between the old offender and an accomplice, while this young man, who had been merely a tool in the transaction, was delivered over to justice. We need not add, that he was speedily convicted, and sentenced for a term of several years to confinement in the State-prison.

Several of the first months of this confinement were passed in solitude. It was midwinter. The room to which he was consigned was unglazed ; his bed was a bunk filled with straw, and his covering a single blanket. It happened, that, on several occasions, he awoke in the morning and found himself covered with snow from the open window. His food was insufficient in quantity and poor in quality; and his health soon began to decline. Frequently he was obliged to lie with his limbs folded together during the whole day and night, for the sake of husbanding the vital warmth, until, even after being taken out, he was for some time unable to stand upright. During this sad period, “My feelings,” said he, “were continually vibrating between two extremes. Sometimes I felt myself injured ; though I knew I had done wrong, yet I was conscious I did not deserve such protracted misery, and I could not help weeping over my situation. Then, again, I would feel that this was not manly, and I would brace myself to bear it without flinching, determined, that, if I ever was set at liberty, the world should pay dearly for its treatment of me.” These latter feelings gradually strengthened with time, and at the close of the term of solitary confinement had formed themselves into a habit.

When this melancholy half year had elapsed, he was turned loose into unrestrained intercourse with men who had,

themselves, undergone a similar training. He described the prison at large as a perfect pandemonium, where every evil passion of the human heart was cultivated to terrible luxuriance. " I do not believe," said he, “that there was a man there, who would have hesitated for a moment to commit murder, were it not from the fear of detection. I myself have frequently been guilty of murder in my heart.” The only feeling possessed by the convicts in common, was, hatred against society, and a determination to be avenged upon it, if ever they had again the opportunity. To accomplish this purpose, they were willing, at all times to combine together. Those who entered, were always ready to make known to those about to go out any peculiar facilities, with which they were acquainted, for depredation. They assisted each other in forming plans and in fabricating tools, and thus, on several occasions, it was commonly known in the prison, that a murder or robbery was to be perpetrated, some days before the occurrence took place. No one who knew of the existence of such designs dared to reveal them ; for he was well assured, that, in case it were found out, he would inevitably be assassinated by some of the desperadoes by whom he was surrounded.

This was the manner in which, only a few years since, an enlightened community was laboring, at great expense, to diminish the amount of crime by which it was afflicted. The account above given is related from memory ; but it is, in all its important features, presented as we received it. It had, at the time, every appearance of truth and naturalness; and we have had no reason, from any subsequent investigations, to question the veracity of our informant.

We need not ask, whether there can be any thing more weak or more wicked, than such a system as this. So far from having a tendency to diminish crime, its tendency is directly to increase it. Prisons, of every kind, were nurseries of vice ; seminaries, in which criminals could select and educate their associates, and in which the whole society of criminals became bound to each other by a perverted moral sympathy, and by a language of words and symbols, known to themselves, but unknown to all the rest of the world.

The weakness of such a system was paralleled only by its wickedness. What can be more inexcusably culpable, than for the intelligent, responsible citizens of a free country to suffer such abominations to go on, year after year, uncorrected ? What can be more wantonly cruel, than, for a single and, it may be, a venial offence, thus to consign a fellow man, without the hope of forgiveness, to a mode of punishment, which, unless a miracle prevent, must“ destroy both soul and body in hell”? We have all heard of the Spaniard, who, having disarmed his enemy, obliged him, on condition that his life should be spared, to renounce his religion and blaspheme his Redeemer, and then deliberately plunged his sword into his bosom, saying, that it would have been a poor revenge merely to put him to death ; he had now insured his eternal damnation. We would, of course, by no means intimate, that sentiments thus vindictive have given rise to the old methods of prison discipline ; but we do say, that, in result, the analogy between the two cases is much more exact than we wish it were. There is, at any rate, sufficient similarity to remind us, that the evils springing from want of consideration are frequently as great as those arising from deliberate wickedness.

The praise of making the first effort to arouse the public mind in this country to the enormity of this evil must, without doubt, be awarded to the citizens of Philadelphia, a city always forward in every effort to promote the happiness, or alleviate the sufferings of man. On the 7th of February, 1776, an association was formed, denominated “ The Philadelphia Society for assisting Distressed Prisoners.” During the American Revolution, when Philadelphia was in the power of the enemy, this society seems to have been suspended or dissolved. On the 8th of May, 1787, some of its surviving members formed another association, under the name of " The Philadelphia Society for alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons.”

“ This useful and unassuming body,” says Mr. Smith, "is the parent of all the societies, which have since been formed for similar purposes, in Europe and this country. It has, perhaps, effected more for the permanent benefit of mankind, than any of the meritorious charities of this city of benevolence. It has the enviable fame of being the first to reduce the humane and philosophic theory of preventive and reforming punishments, by the separate confinement and instruction of prisoners, to the unerring test of successful experiment.” — p. 7.

The labors of this Society have been principally confined to the State of Pennsylvania. It investigated the condition of prisons throughout that State, laid them, from time to time, before the legislature and the public, and desisted not until it had procured the adoption of that system of criminal jurisprudence and prison discipline, which has since been known as the Pennsylvania system.

The other association, and that on which the greater share of the labor in this cause has of late years fallen, is the “ Prison Discipline Society" of Boston. This society was organized in Boston, June 30th, 1825. Its first annual Report bears date June 2d, 1826. Since its formation, it has published thirteen annual Reports, forming together a volume of twelve hundred and thirty-four closely printed octavo pages. These Reports, we venture to say, furnish a mass of facts and statistics respecting prisons, and the various subjects connected with criminal jurisprudence, of greater value than can be found in any other works at present in the English language. By correspondence, it annually collects all the most important information to be gained on this subject; and, by means of its secretary, it visits frequently all the prisons in the northern and middle states. Indeed, when we consider the very small expenditure of the Society, and the improvements in prisons and prison discipline which it has originated, not only in the United States and the Canadas, but also in Europe, we look at it as a striking illustration of the power for good which Divine Providence has conferred upon man. This society has not expended more than about three thousand dollars per annum ; and yet, besides stereotyping all its reports, sustaining its secretary, and assisting in the support of several State-prison chaplains, it has spread before every man in the community the means of forming a judgment on this important question, and has brought about a radical change in the management of prisons in about half of the States in the Union. Nor is all this the whole, or even the half, of the benefit which has thus been conferred upon the community. It is now universally acknowledged, that the treatment of prisoners is a matter into which every virtuous member of society is bound to make inquiry ; that the attempt to reform criminals is not by any means hopeless; and that it is incumbent on every political society to form for itself a system of criminal jurisprudence, which, by laboring for the reformation of all classes of offenders, shall reduce the actual amount of crime within the narrowest possible limits.

VOL. XLIX. — NO. 104.

« 이전계속 »